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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 26 June 2024

Bhediya: Varun Dhawan howls and lands a chuckle but isn’t really scary; Kriti Sanon has little to do

Directed by Amar Kaushik, the horror-comedy film also stars Abhishek Banerjee, Deepak Dobriyal, Saurabh Shukla and Paalin Kabak

Chandreyee Chatterjee Calcutta Published 25.11.22, 04:29 PM
Varun Dhawan and Kriti Sanon in Bhediya

Varun Dhawan and Kriti Sanon in Bhediya Instagram

Two bumbling oafs are trying to draw out their friend, who has turned into a werewolf (technically he is a lycan, a human who can transform into a wolf at will), by howling but to no avail. The radio is turned on by accident and an oft-made-fun-of singer starts singing ‘Ooooo huzoor’ and the wolf appears.

That was the moment that tipped Bhediya, directed by Amar Kaushik and starring Varun Dhawan and Kriti Sanon, from okay to good. At least for me. Third in producer Dinesh Vijan’s horror-comedy universe that also includes Kaushik’s debut film, Stree, and Roohi directed by Hardik Mehta, Bhediya tilts more towards comedy than horror. And honestly, it is at its best when the comedy is at the fore.

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Like Stree, Bhediya is a social commentary but instead of the subtle subversion of norms, it goes at it with a blunt hammer and ends up being not so effective. Set in the gorgeous Arunachal Pradesh, put to stunning use by cinematographer Jishnu Bhattacharjee, Bhediya tries to get across two messages at once — the very topical issue of nature versus development and the racism that people from the Northeastern states face from the rest of the country. But somewhere the messages, hammered incessantly, fizzle into becoming a one-dimensional tale of transformation of the heartless “outsider” into a caring, good guy.

Dhawan plays Bhaskar Sharma, a contractor who needs to get a road done through the forest in Ziro. He embarks on a journey to Arunachal Pradesh with his cousin Janardan (the same guy who was kidnapped by Stree in Kaushik’s first film, making it a nice tie-in), played by a truly stellar Abhishek Banerjee, and meets up with his Arunachali friend Jomin, played by Paalin Kabak. Bhaskar appoints various people to convince the locals for permission to build the road but gets bit in the butt by a local legend who protects the forests. That throws a spanner in the works, because Bhaskar ends up eating the same people he has appointed to help him.

You know the Jomin-chowmein jokes are coming because Janardan has already spouted all the ‘one and the same’ attitude people have when referring to the Northeast — ‘toh hum Imphal jaa rahein hai?… Woh Manipur ka capital hai… Achha toh Meghalaya ka ticket hai?... Meghalaya state hai… Hum Guwahati ja rahein… Oh bhool gaya tha woh Arunachal mein hai… Guwahati Assam mein hai’... you get the drift. That is exactly how ham-handedly the issues are mostly dealt with. So, you have Bhaskar saying that the snake in the middle of a forest road should go back to where it came from and being told that he is the ‘outsider’ in the snake’s home. There are ‘no pragati without prakriti’ dialogues and passionate outbursts on what it is like for Indians to be treated as an outsider in India. There is no doubt that the messages matter but they don’t have enough gravity to make an impact, underscored as everything in this film is with comedy as opposed to humour.

And the comedy is, mostly, spot on (when it’s not veering into toilet humour), especially between the male trio of Bhaskar, Janardan and Jo. Whether it is while trying to connect the dots between the animal attacks on humans, a wolf wearing blue boxers and Bhaskar vomiting blood or getting trapped with a changing Bhaskar while trying to keep him contained. It is the individual performances and the cast’s chemistry that make the film work, including Deepak Dobriyal as Panda, the Pankaj Tripathi-like character in Stree who does the foreboding.

As does the VFX, whether it is enhancing the lush Arunachal forests into magical places like the live action Jungle Book film, or the transformation of Dhawan into the lycan. The wolves (remember the original legend that lands the first bite?) are gorgeous and if the VFX seems a little off sometimes, it is entirely forgivable. The references to Jaani Dushman and Junoon seem apt because that was what I was dreading. No complaints there.

The background score is nothing to write home about except the way old songs are used in the film. The Jungle jungle phool khila hai song being one of the best examples.

If you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned Kriti Sanon yet, it is because she is hardly there. Sanon plays a vet who is strange (stranger is the fact that Jo, who calls Panda an outsider despite him having lived there all his life, doesn’t even question where she is from) and injects strange-looking medicines into Bhaskar’s butt (this film is obsessed with his butt). She does well with whatever time she is given on screen, which is surprisingly little, especially the excuse of a romance between her and Dhawan.

And no, there is literally no horror. Unless you consider wolves eating humans, without seeing the act happening, horror.

So, does Bhediya have its heart in the right place? Yes. Does it manage to achieve the impact it is meant to have? No. Maybe if Dhawan was more convincing as the cutthroat corporate or either party, the locals or Bhaskar, had more to lose, it would have made more of an impression. But is it an entertaining romp to be enjoyed over the weekend? Definitely.

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